By: Ian Loustalot, Jackie Johnson, Lucas Capobianco, Kristine Wildman, Chloe Fillinger, Emma Welch, Mary Fleming
A group of us college students challenged ourselves to cook a full day of meals with solely local produce in order to prove that it is both possible and affordable. Luckily, residing in Boulder, Colorado, where local food is highly valued, we were given more opportunity to find local goods. While the Boulder County Farmers Market would seem like a natural place to shop for local goods, since the market only occurs from early April to mid-November, we instead chose Alfalfa’s grocery store, Boulder’s independent, locally-owned natural and organic foods store. We wanted to go to a location that was open year round to prove that locally-grown food is always readily available.
Alfalfa’s turned out to be a great choice because they have strong labeling to help us determine which foods are local to Colorado. They organize their produce with clear signs of where the crops were grown or ingredients came from. And the labels would often provide the state or, in the case of Colorado, even the town or farm. We began our shopping trip with a few ideas about meals we wanted to cook. Slowly but surely, however, we realized that many of these ideas could not be accomplished because the ingredients needed to make these recipes were not available locally. The shopping trip taught us a few “what to know” about finding local foods in grocery stores.
Preparation & Adaptability
When entering a grocery store planning to buy local, it is important to plan your meal ahead of time so that you know what ingredients to purchase; however, being adaptable is extremely important. When we went on our shopping trip, we had to rethink the concepts for our meals frequently. Even for a market that prides itself on carrying lots of local products, it didn’t carry everything that we had hoped. So a word of advice if you go into a store planning to buy local: be ready to think quickly on your feet if the ingredient you wanted to purchase isn’t available locally.
It is important to determine which values you hold as most significant about your choices in food. For example, Alfalfa’s was sold out of pastured eggs and they did not carry local grass-fed meat. We challenge everyone to get educated about what you put into your body. We must be educated on the trade-offs as well, such as if you should buy local conventional food or buy food that has been grown or treated right -- but at a distance. Another thing to think about in terms of compromising is that a store or market does not always carry the exact good you are looking for, so it is up to you to determine which values you can set aside and which ones you need to hold your ground on.
One of the last things that we learned through our trip was the importance of asking questions. When we wanted to be sure that we were picking out the correct local produce, or when something wasn’t labeled clearly, we asked the employees for help. We may shy away from asking questions when shopping because we want to seem competent and aware, but getting information from those who work with the goods every day can be beneficial.
In addition to learning about shopping and eating locally, we learned, as a group of students who understand shopping on a budget, that it isn’t always easy or cheap to shop for a lot of people or a big family. For seven people, we were able to find a lot of fresh produce for an affordable price and everything we purchased had the ability to be stored and used consistently throughout the week.
Overall, the shopping trip was a great experience. It is completely possible for people on a budget to shop and eat locally if they take the extra time to think about what they are purchasing and how to make it last. Being more food conscious doesn’t have to change your entire shopping basket, but maybe try to stick to buying at least 10% local or swapping out some ingredients for locally-sourced ones.
While shopping at Alfalfa’s we did our best to buy all local ingredients for our breakfast omelet. The tomatoes, mushrooms, basil, cheese, butter, and onions were all local. The cheese we used was from Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in Longmont, Colorado. The eggs used were local, organic, and free-range. However, the selection of eggs was a bit confusing. As shoppers, we couldn’t decide which eggs were the healthiest, most local, and had the best treatment of the hens.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed and confused by the myriad of labels on eggs? There are several types of eggs available nowadays. Among the choices are conventional, cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised eggs. Many of the cartons display advertisements for farms with colorful scenes. The question is, what are the actual differences in these labels.
Shoppers often select conventional eggs because of their cheaper price. But that cheap price comes at a cost. The hens that produce conventional eggs have a portion of their beaks cut off to prevent them from pecking each other in the confined environment. In the battery cages in which they are confined, each caged laying hen is afforded less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper in which to live her entire life. Each cage holds about 10 hens where they are so tightly together that they urinate and defecate on one another, which leads to diseases flourishing in the cramped spaces. These are the worst conditions.
Hens that produce cage-free eggs aren't treated much better than hens producing eggs labeled conventional. For eggs to be labeled cage-free, the hens must be housed in a building or enclosed area that allows hens unlimited access to food and water and the ability to roam. However, they are not guaranteed access to the outside. Like their battery-caged sisters, they undergo the painful debeaking process as soon as they are hatched. Cage-free is a typical large-scale commercial operation advertised as "animal-friendly."
To be labeled free-range, hens must have access to the outdoors, but requirements about how much time or the condition of an outdoor space are not specified. Even if the hens can go outside, the exit is often very small, so not all hens go outside or even get the opportunity to. The "range" of the land outside doesn't have any requirements either and can be just a small, muddy yard covered in manure. On the other hand, if a small-scale, local farmer says “free range,” they probably mean that their chickens can run around outside. The hens get debeaked at a hatchery and oftentimes do not adventure outdoors since that breaks their daily routine.
The bucolic setting that every shopper imagines when buying eggs is the pasture-raising system. A pasture-raised claim on the carton means hens were raised for at least some portion of their lives on pasture or with access to pasture, not continually confined indoors. The hens must be outdoors year-round, with mobile or fixed housing where the hens can go inside at night to protect themselves from predators, or from the stormy and rough weather. There is some research that suggests eggs from pasture-raised hens are more beneficial to human health. They have a favorable omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio. There are some pasture-raised egg companies in the United States, and we are lucky in Boulder County to have a number of pasture-raised egg options. There are even pasture-raised egg CSA options.
Finding local, pasture-raised eggs in the supermarket was difficult. Although we intended to buy local pastured eggs, on the day we shopped, Alfalfa’s was sold out. So in this case, we purchased the next best type of egg, local and free-range.
Lunch: Butternut Squash Soup & Grilled Cheese
For our lunch, we decided to make a soup out of purely locally-grown ingredients. Being in a market that prides itself on its myriad locally-grown products, the search to find vegetables for our soup was not limited. We went in to see what we could find, searching the aisles for ideas and potential recipe additions. We decided on Butternut Squash Soup. Finding the ingredients for our soup was easy. The butternut squash that was used as the base of the recipe was from a local farm, as were the onions and garlic. The only vegetable that gave us some troubles were the red bell peppers, as it is difficult to find them in season in November. Although not being all from the same farm, we made sure that each vegetable we chose originated in Colorado as best as we could. In regards to the half and half we used in the soup, it was produced close by in Broomfield, CO.
Once everything is diced, chopped and minced, you throw it all into a large pot. In order to soften the vegetables enough to puree them, you must bring them to a boil. This more time-intensive part of the recipe gave us students a chance to study and work on some homework while we were waiting for the vegetables to boil.
Once everything is boiled and softened, you puree it to get that silky consistency you want for your soup. After your soup is the consistency you would like it to be, you pour it all back in the pot you started with and then add the cream in order to thicken the soup. Once all steps are completed, your soup is ready to serve! Add a little Rosemary on top as garnish and you are the next Giada De Laurentiis!
A grilled cheese sandwich? We are such college students! This simple, quick, and don't forget delicious lunch is something we are sure everyone on a budget has made at least once in their lifetime. The ingredients are pretty simple, as each element we found was available locally. Starting with the bread, “Rudi’s” is a local company based right out of Boulder, CO, and pairing it with Haystack Mountain Cheddar Cheese from Longmont, CO, you have the creation of a perfect grilled cheese.
The entirety of this meal took a quick 5 minutes to prepare, make, and display. This fast, easy, and delicious meal is perfect for quick lunch in between classes. This grilled cheese, paired with our butternut squash soup, made for an ideal winter lunch!
Something to consider as well: Rudi’s is a great organic, local brand, but since they source some of their ingredients from outside of Colorado, it might be beneficial to consider making your own bread with flour purchased at the farmer’s market. You can stock up when it is available and use it all winter!
Snack: Kale Chips & Apples with Cheese
Being students with busy schedules, it is sometimes difficult to find healthy snack ideas that are quick, easy to make, and affordable. As a group we wanted to incorporate as many fruits and vegetables we could into our meal plan to keep our meals healthy and satisfying to prove that we could still eat healthy even during our busy college schedules. We decided that kale chips, sliced apples, and cheese, would make for the perfect after-class snack. Each produce item used to make this snack was locally produced and tasted so fresh! With a prep and cook time of about 10 minutes, this small dish is quick, easy, and healthy.
In order to make the kale chips, you must preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Use a knife to cut off the leaves from the stem or just tear the leaves from the stem into bite-size pieces and spread them out on the cookie sheet. Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil along the kale as evenly as possible. Then, sprinkle a little bit of table salt and bake for about 10-15 minutes until the edges are slightly brown. While the kale chips are baking you can slice the apples and cheese as desired. Once the chips are crispy, let cool for about 5 minutes. This delicious snack is easy and filling and can easily be taken on the go! Kale, apples, and cheese are all affordable, especially if you’re on a budget, and are easy to store and save for another day.
Dinner: Steak and Mashed Potatoes
As we shopped through Alfalfas, the choices for local meat were extremely limited, which surprised us as we were at a market known for having a lot of options when it comes to shopping for local food. Trying to decide what kind of meat to pick tested us on where our personal values resided. Either we could have a local steak that was not grass-fed and raised in a feedlot, or we could pick the meat that was from Oregon but was grass-fed and not raised in a feedlot. Basically, if you find yourself in this same predicament, it comes down to your own preference. Would you rather have local meat that is not grass fed or non-local meat but grass fed? Either choice carries environmental and ethical considerations. We decided to go for the grass-fed meat from outside Colorado because it was important to us that the cows were treated well and had a good life. The two varieties of meat were around the same price for the same amount, but we didn't like the fact that the local cows were raised in feedlots.
There are large differences in the types of meat products sold in America today. When shopping for meat at a meat counter, as with eggs, there are several different types of production to consider. It is important to distinguish between these different types.
Finding the local potatoes was quite easy and didn't leave us with a tough decision on what to buy. We bought about twelve potatoes for the mashed potatoes and they were all locally grown right here in Boulder. The labeling really helped as we shopped, especially in the vegetable selection process. The twelve potatoes can make at least two hefty servings of mashed potatoes. So even if the price seems to be a bit high, know that you can save some of the potatoes for later.
When it comes to preparing the actual meal, be sure to give yourself about 45 mins to cook the whole meal. You should start by first boiling water and peel all the potatoes, then let them boil for 25-30 minutes. Next, once your timer for the potatoes has only 10 more minutes left, put your steak on the grill that has been preheated to about 500 degrees. The steak takes 8 minutes to cook, 4 minutes on each side. By putting the steak on later like this, it allows for your meal to be hot when you serve it all together. Making steak and mashed potatoes are fun and easy. It takes some time to make, but the taste is worth it. Also, there may be enough for leftovers, allowing for more than just one meal.
Dessert: Apples, Peanut Butter, Honey and Cinnamon
For the dessert, we decided to craft an apple, peanut butter, and honey treat. This included Highland Honey, which is local to Colorado, locally-grown apples, and locally-made Justin’s Peanut Butter. Something to consider as well: Justin’s is a great local brand, but, like many local producers, they source their ingredients from outside of Colorado. As with weighing considerations about eggs and meat, we can consider here weighing carbon footprint with supporting the local economy. When a local brand gets business, this keeps money in the Boulder economy. We liked this idea and decided to buy the peanut butter. The cinnamon we used was not local, but we figured that using just a little bit to spice up the dessert would not hurt. We chose this dessert because it was simple to find these ingredients at Alfalfas. We also chose these ingredients because it was simple to make for a college student looking for something quick and sweet for dessert, or even a snack between classes or work.
Our group found that sometimes it can be difficult to find all local ingredients, and sometimes you may have to compromise to find the best things you can. Thankfully, this dessert was mainly all local, and we were able to taste the difference from non-local apples, peanut butter, and honey. The apples were sweeter, crunchier, and tasted juicier. It was scrumptious!